Designer Jonathan Simkhai launched his namesake womenswear collection in 2010. An alum of Parsons and FIT, the New York native is known for blurring gender lines in his designs and transforming men’s fashion into alluring feminine silhouettes. In 2012, Simkhai was selected as one of the ten emerging designers to be initiated into the CFDA Fashion Incubator.
Where are you from? How did your environment influence your career path?
I grew up outside of New York City in Westchester, NY and came to NYC right after I graduated high school. The quick-paced city life and the girls who are wrapped up in it definitely always inspired me. I knew early on that I wanted to be in fashion and I wanted to design. Being so close to the mecca of it all definitely gave me that extra push to be where I am today.
You started designing with a very ‘menswear for women’ vision–how has that evolved since you launched in 2010?
I still design with a menswear idea in mind. I would say my “menswear for women” vision has evolved more into an element of the clothes and less of a focus or literal translation. My SS13 collection was inspired by skater boys in ’70s Venice Beach, but I was designing for a forward and feminine girl. So the same elements of menswear were still there, but in a newer way.
Occasionally your collections are described as androgynous – is that a limiting term for you or your potential consumers?
I don’t think it is limiting. I think “androgynous” is a description of a picture or an image. To me, the “androgynous” elements are much more of a tool to the personality and style of the girls that wear the clothes. My intention is not to make my consumer look or feel like a boy, but to have her embrace her femininity and sex appeal in a different way… And I do dress girly girls too!
How do you begin a new season? With an image? An idea? A color palette?
I typically begin a new season with a feeling that I get from my environment. I like to pull inspiration from the women in my life, where I’m traveling and my surroundings. I’m also constantly asking my self if I was she and if I was going where she is going, what would I want to be wearing. That’s the best way I connect with my girl; by putting myself in her shoes. Once I make that connection, I’ll start researching images and fabrics. I’ll pull a few strong images and fabrics that are emotional and use those as my starting point.
Susan Joy styles your collections. How much influence does she have on your design process?
Susan has really been a great resource for me. Her involvement varies from collection to collection. Sometimes we will sit down and sketch together and other times she will come in a week before the collection launches and help edit. I really respect her opinions as I feel like she has a really solid understanding of the industry and her contributions have always been key to the brand’s development.
Your SS 2013 was reviewed everywhere and is absolutely stunning – do you consider that collection a breakthrough for you?
Thank you! I do consider my SS 2013 collection a breakthrough for me. I had gotten to a place in my business where I felt like it was time to really make a strong comeback in Fashion Week, and the SS 13 collection was built for that.
How has being a part of the CFDA Incubator program changed your business?
Being part of the CFDA Incubator program has definitely changed my business in that it has given me more confidence and structure. The CFDA offers so much guidance and valuable resources that it has really allowed me to figure out what I’m doing right and what I can still improve on. I feel like my relationship with the CFDA Incubator program is similar to being part of a football team: They are the cheerleaders on the sidelines giving me support and getting everyone else to cheer me on too… but in the end it is up to me to score the touchdown!
Do you think there are enough programs and scholarships within the industry to support emerging designers?
I think there are a lot of great programs out there; the CFDA has been so incredibly beneficial for me. But I do think that there are lot of other emerging designers who could use more resources and support.
What made you decide to introduce Pre-Fall for 2013?
It really just felt like the right time to add Pre-Fall. We were confident in our repeat customers so we really felt comfortable introducing a new collection. I like to feel a balance between collections too, and this felt like a good way to make the transition between Spring and Fall. I like to think of Spring as the appetizer, Fall as the main course, with pre-fall as the palette cleanser in between and of course Resort as dessert.
What was the most difficult part of adding another season?
The most difficult part of adding another season has definitely been time management. Spring to Fall is already a shorter design period, especially with most of Europe being closed for two weeks around Christmas and China for the New Year. Adding Pre-Fall just doubled that time crunch.
Who are you dying to see in your collections?
Taylor Tomasi Hill, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rooney Mara.